Winnipeg is about to become home to a plant that will supply the world’s largest food company with plant-based protein.
Nestlé is partnering with Merit Functional Foods and Burcon NutraScience to supply protein from peas and canola that will be used in food and beverages.
The plant-based protein industry is booming with meat and dairy alternatives being carried by many restaurants and grocery stores, and much of that comes from peas.
“It is large and growing rapidly. If you look online, you’ll see all sorts of people trying to make estimates of how large it will grow. It’s a huge opportunity,” Burcon CEO Johann Tergesen said.
“And it’s not only something — products — that are good for you in terms of health, they are good for the planet as well.”
All the peas and canola will come from farmers in Canada, and a significant amount will be supplied by Manitoba producers, he said.
Burcon, a developer of protein extraction technology, has been operating for about 20 years just off McGillivray Boulevard in south Winnipeg. In 2019, it established Merit, which manufactures those proteins into commercial ingredients.
Merit is currently building a 94,000-square-foot production facility in Winnipeg that is scheduled to open in fall. It will produce multiple plant proteins with specific applications for food and beverage products, Tergesen said.
There will be about 85 employees when the plant opens but Tergesen said there are already expansion plans for a total of about 240 employees.
It made sense to locate the new Merit plant in Winnipeg, Tergesen said.
“We’ll use a huge amount of electricity and Manitoba has some of the lowest hydro electricity rates in the world, an excellent and skilled workforce and access to the peas and canola right there,” he said.
“There’s many reasons that make Manitoba a perfect location for doing this.”
The news from Nestlé comes a week after French-based Roquette, a developer of plant-based ingredients, announced a multi-year partnership to supply pea protein to Beyond Meat.
Much of that supply is expected to come from Manitoba, where Roquette is currently building a $400-million pea processing facility near Portage la Prairie.
The facility is expected to be completed by November.